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Special counsel finds Boulder police review of officer's use of force during arrest done properly

Posted at 12:24 PM, Jun 25, 2019
and last updated 2019-06-25 14:24:56-04

BOULDER, Colo. – A special counsel review of the Boulder Police Department’s investigation into an April 5 incident involving an officer and a man with a walking stick who was filming the officer’s interaction with a group of homeless people found the investigation was done properly.

Former U.S. Attorney for Colorado Bob Troyer was retained as special counsel to investigate and determine whether the department’s supervisory review into the incident between Officer Waylon Lolotai and Sammie Lawrence, 26, and if the department correctly decided not to open an internal affairs investigation.

Aiding in Troyer’s investigation were former FBI Special Agents Michael Ranking and Robert Evans.

In the incident, Lolotai was called out to the ballpark on reports that three homeless people were scattering trash about and smoking marijuana. When Lolotai arrived, Lawrence walked up and started recording the interaction between the officer and the other people.

Lawrence was carrying a large staff at the time that he claims helps prevent him from falling should he have a seizure and told the officer that while Lolotai asked him to step away and put the staff down.

He refused to do so after being asked several times and was told he would be arrested once more officers arrived unless he moved away or put down the staff, which he did not do, according to the special counsel report.

Once other officers arrived, Lawrence “only moved several inches,” according to the special counsel report. Lolotai moved to grab him and handcuff him, but he pulled away, and Lolotai kicked the staff away.

Lolotai eventually used a knee strike and arm bar, then tackled Lawrence to arrest him for obstructing a peace officer and resisting arrest.

After his arrest, Lawrence filed a complaint and the Boulder County NAACP called the officer’s actions “completely unnecessary and over the top.” The arrest came weeks after another controversial arrest by Boulder police of a person of color.

The special counsel report notes that the incident involving Lawrence “received public attention and generated complaints.” It says that over the next few days, the police department’s supervisory personnel reviewed the incident to decide whether a Professional Standards Unit investigation was necessary to decide if Lolotai violated department policy.

After that review, the sergeant on the PSU and Boulder Police Chief Greg Testa found that there were “no grounds” for opening a PSU investigation.

Troyer, in the special counsel report, was only tasked with investigating the “decision-making process as part of the police disciplinary procedure” and not to “investigate the underlying event.”

“Our review, instead, was to focus on whether the BPD had followed procedures and properly decided not to open a PSU investigation into Officer Lolotai’s conduct on April 5th,” Troyer wrote.

The special counsel report says the team reviewed the body-worn camera video of the officers at the scene, the video recorded by Lawrence, the arrest report, local and state and law and department policy in its investigation, as well as officer and citizen emails. They also interviewed the chief and five others involved in the decision not to open the PSU investigation.

They found that the supervisory review complied with the department’s General Orders, which allow the PSU sergeant to decline further investigation into an incident if facts show a complaint is unsubstantiated. The special counsel also found that the department undertook an “objective and dispassionate review” of the facts of the case before it determine no further PSU investigation was necessary.

The report says Lolotai used proper force in arresting Lawrence and that Lawrence was resisting arrest and interfering with police work. They also found that there was “no indication” Lolotai violated other department policies.

“Therefore, BPD’s judgment that the complaint was unsubstantiated, and a PSU investigation unnecessary, was sound,” the report states.

Court records show that Lawrence pleaded not guilty to the two misdemeanor charges at a June 17 hearing. They indicate he has a hearing set for Aug. 16 and a jury trial set to begin Sept. 24.

The Boulder County NAACP did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday morning.

Lolotai, the city of Boulder and the Boulder Police Department still face a federal lawsuit over his hiring and a July 2018 incident involving a woman named Kelly Clark who Lolotai is accused of shoving. A scheduling conference is scheduled for Sept. 30 in that lawsuit. The special counsel report says that the department was aware of that incident when conducting the investigation.

"Chief Testa reached this conclusion fully aware of Officer Lolotai's recent use of force incidents involving Michelle Rodriquez and Kelly Clark," the report says of the chief's decision that there was "no basis to initiate a more extensive review or PSU investigation."